Modern Views of Plato’s Silence (Part I)

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James Rhodes Eros Plato


Plato directly and indirectly cautions his students that he does not commu­nicate with them straightforwardly. To repeat the warnings quoted previ­ously, Plato fiercely denies in his Seventh Letter that Dionysius II and other dubious individuals could have known that about which he is serious (περί ων εγώ σπουδάζω). They could not have understood it, “For there is no writing of mine about these things (περί αυτών), nor will there ever be. For it is in no way a spoken thing like other lessons (ρητόν γαρ σϋδαμώς εστίν ως άλλα μαθήματα)” (341cl-6). He remarks further that an effort to write or speak about these things to the many would not be good for human beings, “except for some few who are able to learn (άνευρεΐν) by them­selves with a little guidance.” As for the rest, some would be filled “with a contempt that is not right and that is in no way harmonious, and others with lofty and empty hopes, as if they had learned some mysteries” (341e2-342al).

In the Symposium, Plato makes Alcibiades declare that Socrates is a Silenus figure, with an outer casing that conceals divine images inside (215a4-c3, 216c7-217al). In the Phaedrus, he makes Socrates maintain that a word, “once it is written, is tossed about, alike among those who under­stand and those who have no business with it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak” (275d9-e3). Socrates goes on to proclaim the superi­ority of oral to written teaching (276a-b), and to insist that one who knows the just, the beautiful, and the good will write only for amusement (276c). In the Protagoras, Republic, and Theaetetus, Plato also has Socrates indicate that he is perfectly aware of poetic and sophistical arts of ironic (or esoteric) speaking and writing, in which a thinker’s real views are divulged to a few while simultaneously being concealed from many.

These indications have inspired a long tradition of cautious interpre­tation of Plato. It is not certain that the tradition dates to the Academy because the best evidence, Aristotle’s use of Plato, is inconclusive. How­ever, it clearly predates Plutarch, who took it for granted that the classical philosophers have “forbidden and deeper teachings” that they “do not im­part to many,” and that their publications are useful only to those who al­ready know the materials therein (Alexander 7.3.5). It is strongly established by the time of the Christian Father Clement and by the era of Saint Augus­tine, whose Plato makes a point of “dissembling any knowledge or opinion of his own,” with the result that his positions on important topics “are not easy to perceive.”1 Since Augustine, the best Western readers of Plato have been wary of handling his works as if they were easily accessible doctrinal treatises.2

To state that the tradition of cautious exegesis of Plato has been a long one is not to say that it has had many representatives. The best readers of Plato have been relatively few in number. Further, to speak of a single tradition is not to suggest that its bearers have agreed on the question of how to un­derstand Platonic silence. In the nineteenth century, four of the West’s fore­most thinkers and some lesser lights engaged in an acrimonious dispute about the subject. The quarrel began when Friedrich Schleiermacher took issue with some earlier giants and some now obscure professors who held that Plato was an esoteric writer. Schleiermacher claimed, rather, that Plato tried to bring his companions and readers into contact with “inner” inef­fable truths that they had to see spiritually for themselves.

Next, G. W. F. Hegel spoke up. Hegel was aware of the texts that gave rise to the debate but criticized both sides, arguing that Plato disclosed all he knew. Søren Kierkegaard replied to Hegel in his doctoral dissertation on Socratic irony. Although a Hegelian, Kierkegaard sided with Schleiermacher, declaring that Socratic irony pertained to an ineffable good, one that no predicates could capture. After this, the controversy died down for a time, largely because nearly everyone had become a Hegelian. In 1888, however, Friedrich Nietzsche accused Socrates and Plato of an irony that marked not a su­perior will to hide the truth from the many but a base fear of facing it. He dissented from other esotericists about the proper reasons for irony but not about its existence.

Plato’s warnings about his writing and the quarrel about their mean­ing were forgotten for the next sixty years, thanks to Hegel’s influence. Unhappily for good education, students therefore were taught histories of ideas by academics such as George Sabine without ever hearing the faintest rumor of Plato’s caveats. However, from the mid-1940s to his death in 1973, Leo Strauss revived the arguments of the esotericists, maintaining that Plato deliberately deceived, and kept profound secrets from, the many. His simultaneously open and veiled analyses of the irony of Socrates and other truly great philosophers are now inspiring strict intellectual disci­pline in a third generation of doctors of philosophy. This does not mean that Strauss ever persuaded or silenced Sabine and his Hegelian ilk com­pletely. As Stanley Rosen reports, Strauss’s efforts to rejuvenate the eso­teric reading of the most admired philosophers produced “disbelief and ridicule.” Indeed, they made Strauss “one of the most hated men in the English-speaking academic world.” Although a self-acknowledged devo­tee of Strauss, Rosen himself accuses his master of not having gone far enough in his expositions of Platonic irony. Of all Strauss’s students, Rosen gives the theory of philosophic esotericism the most surprising new slant, a “postmodernist” one.

Meanwhile, Eric Voegelin wrote practically nothing about the particular issues in Plato’s dialogues that caused Schleiermacher to propound his theory of the links between their dramatic form and inner truth. However, he did declare that the Platonic dialogue is “an exoteric lit­erary work, accessible individually to everybody who wants to read it.” He also held that Socratic statements symbolized not objective facts, but “ex­periences of transcendence” that language could capture only analogically. He thus arrived at an equivalent of Schleiermacher’s view of a Plato who combined openness with respect for ineffable insight. Then he developed an explanation of Plato’s philosophy that went far beyond anything that Schleiermacher had discovered. Paul Friedlander also realized that no one could understand Plato without taking his irony into account. He argued that Thrasymachus was wrong about its nature, that Socrates veils truths that he wants to show, and that the “ineffability of the highest Platonic vision” is symbolized by “the irony of Socratic ignorance.”3

In this chapter, I shall summarize the opinions of the important modern thinkers who have been parties to the dispute over the nature of Platonic silence. As indicated previously, my preliminary hunch is that Plato really is silent with respect to the things about which he is serious, and that his silence has more to do with ineffable knowledge than with the irony or es­otericism envisaged by Strauss. Despite this possible bias, I shall attempt to represent all the views fairly. Then, in both this and subsequent chap­ters, I shall compare the modern opinions with Socrates’ and Plato’s own statements, explaining why I judge that the Schleiermacher-Kierkegaard-Voegelin-Friedlander interpretations are more convincing—unless, in the event, I should reach the opposite conclusion.

While surveying the modern thinkers, we should keep some questions in mind: What, if anything, does Plato conceal? Why and how does he hide it? To inquire more fully: About what is Plato serious? Why must it be unspoken? Is it not a spoken thing simply, or is it not a spoken thing merely in the way that other lessons are spoken things? What is the func­tion of Plato’s dialogues if they do not talk about what is serious? Do they somehow communicate the serious, or move their more able readers to it, without speaking of it? Do they help only a few to learn the serious in this manner, namely, those who can progress with a little guidance, while si­multaneously preventing the less talented from becoming contemptuous or conceiving delusions of grandeur? Why is Plato alarmed by the con­tempt and vain hopes that speaking of his serious thoughts would evoke in the many? What relationships subsist between the truths that Platonic dialogues do not broadcast and the arguments that their characters make? When the dramatis personae speak, does Plato’s lack of seriousness render the words of Socrates and all the others false? Is Alcibiades right to say that Socrates is a Silenus, with an outer shell that hides his insides? If so, is there a method of penetrating this Silenus shell? Why does Socrates not write at all about what he knows? To know the answers to questions such as these would be to understand Platonic silence. My presentation of Hegel will, of course, attempt to ascertain his reasons for denying the existence of this phenomenon. My accounts of the other thinkers will aim to elicit their answers to the kinds of questions posed here.

Friedrich Schleiermacher

In 1804, Friedrich Schleiermacher published his first volume of German translations of the dialogues of Plato. He opened it with a general intro­duction of his series. Subsequently, he furnished each dialogue with its own introduction as well. In his general introduction, he indicates that his scholarship has three purposes: He proposes to make Plato accessible to the public (which already puts him at odds with esotericists). He wants to arrange the dialogues in the order that Plato intended, so that readers might grasp what is taught by their “natural” connections. Believing that the correct sequence of Plato’s writings is identical with the order of their composition, he hopes to acquire rough notions of the relevant dates from clues found in the dialogues themselves.4

I am skeptical of Schleiermacher’s third aim because it too often entails deductions from premises that are mere conjectures. For example, Schleiermacher considers the Phaedrus Plato’s first dialogue, in part because he re­gards its style as youthful.5 However, when we are dealing with a Plato who changes styles like a chameleon, who can be sure of this? I also think that Schleiermacher’s brilliantly conceived and entirely valid second goal can be achieved only by following Plato’s manifestly intended dramatic or­der. These criticisms notwithstanding, Schleiermacher’s analyses are truly illuminating.

In the sections of his general introduction that pertain to our inquiry, Schleiermacher declares that Plato has a greater right than any other philos­opher to complain of having been understood wrongly or not at all. Even the best interpreters are superficial. They speak with all too evident uncer­tainty. They treat the relationship between Plato’s content and his form too casually. They advance premature claims to know Plato better than Plato knew himself, ignoring the great value that Plato attached to “conscious­ness of ignorance.” They are blind to Plato’s great premeditation in putting his dialogues together. Some of them are systematizers who want philos­ophy to be a structure of neatly partitioned sciences. Others are fragmentizers who treat particular works by taking from them what they like. The former are frustrated by their inability to derive a tidy, transparent sys­tem from Plato. They condemn his dialogue form as a hindrance to clarity, accuse him of self-contradictions, and dismiss him as a presumptuous di­alectician who is more eager to refute others than to build a science. They are obtuse to his sense of the unity of knowledge, which prevents him from confining any of his writings to a single field. The latter tear lines out of con­text and see nothing in Plato’s dramatic art form except a loose dress for loose talk. All such exegesis is little more than a confession of total inability to comprehend Plato.6

Having thus disposed of the worst Plato scholars, Schleiermacher turns his critical eye on others only slightly better. He argues that it has dawned on some that Plato’s conclusions have been missed, and that this has led to another kind of error:

Thence, others, for the most part with just as little correct insight but with more good will, now have formed the opinion, partially from iso­lated utterances of Plato himself, partially from a widespread tradition preserved from antiquity of an esoteric and exoteric in philosophy, that Plato’s real wisdom is contained in his writings either not at all or only in secret, hard to detect indications. This idea, indeterminate in itself, has developed in the most manifold forms, and people have emptied Plato’s writings of their content, now more, now less, and contrariwise have sought his true wisdom in secret teachings that he as well as never entrusted to these writings. Indeed, great debates were arranged to de­termine which of Plato’s writings were exoteric and which esoteric, so as to know where at the most a trace of his true secret wisdom still might be sought.7

The isolated sayings of Plato to which Schleiermacher alludes are the lines cited above from the Seventh Letter, Phaedrus, and Symposium. The “tradition preserved from antiquity of an esoteric and exoteric in philos­ophy” extends most notably in Schleiermacher’s lifetime into the work of lesser thinkers such as Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann and also into that of great men such as Gotthold Lessing. Schleiermacher probably regards Ten­nemann and Lessing as the culprits who use the long tradition as justifica­tion for emptying Plato’s philosophy of its content.

Tennemann was a professor at Jena and Marburg, renowned in his day, who published the eleven-volume History of Philosophy from 1798 to 1819. (Hegel knew Tennemann and referred to him in his own Lectures on the History of Philosophy, with numerous expressions of contempt for his intel­ligence. Kierkegaard was also still reading Tennemann after 1841.) Tenne­mann declares that, offensive as the idea is to many, Plato had a “secret philosophy,” that is, a “scientific philosophy,” as distinct from a “popular” one. This probably was so because Plato, unlike Aristotle, was not pro­tected by a powerful king. At first, Tennemann concludes of Plato:

If he had an esoteric philosophy, which cannot be denied, then we may not seek it in his still extant writings, and since these are for us the only valid sources for his philosophy, we really must renounce a complete and fundamen­tal acquaintance with his system.” Perhaps this loss is too much to bear, for Tennemann then begins to speculate that Plato must have allowed ele­ments of “his system” (as if he had a “system”) to creep into his writings here and there, interspersed with materials intended to throw people off the track, but still allowing intelligent readers to reconstruct “the system” by selecting the right pieces.8

Lessing, an illustrious leader of the German Enlightenment, maintains that Leibniz, following “all ancient philosophers,” had been a practitioner of the “exoteric lecture.” That is, in his public works, Leibniz (and there­fore all the ancient philosophers) had accommodated “his system” to “the ruling doctrines of all parties.” He had pretended to adopt their opinions, giving these inadequate beliefs “a tolerable meaning,” and setting his own convictions aside, for purposes that Lessing states ambiguously, if not iron­ically. Also, in dialogues titled Ernst and Falk: Conversations for Free Masons, Lessing makes Falk declare that Free Masonry is grounded in human na­ture, in something of which it is the case that “those who know it cannot say it,” in the sense that the wise cannot say what better is left unsaid.9 This means that Lessing thinks it possible to convey higher truths in plain words, but supposes that the wise must leave these verities unspoken while deceiving the many about their real convictions. As applied to “all ancient philosophers,” this principle assumes that Plato had a “system” but emp­ties his dialogues of their ostensible content.

In support of Tennemann and Lessing, the Platonic statements excerpted above could be interpreted as follows: Plato, on his own testimony, refuses to commit his deepest thoughts to writings that are accessible to the many because he is afraid that the many will misunderstand and become con­temptuous or vain. Therefore, he writes nothing serious, except perhaps clandestinely to the few who can learn by themselves with a little guid­ance. Also, when lecturing, he carefully chooses to whom he will speak and not speak. This implies what Schleiermacher denies, that Plato’s dialogues should be emptied of their content, that is, considered to present nothing in the way of published doctrines to which Plato is genuinely committed. Hence, it appears to mean that Plato’s “real wisdom is contained in his writings either not at all or only in secret, hard to detect indications.” A corollary would be that Plato has two doctrines, namely, the esoteric, the serious teaching that he discloses only to the wise, and the exoteric, the sham teaching that he propagates openly. When the idea of the “noble” lie is mixed into the calculus, Plato’s words might even mean that the fraudu­lent precepts of the wise deceive the many by paying exoteric lip service to the “ruling doctrines” of all parties, thus keeping the many under control. The ancient tradition of the esoteric and exoteric, authenticated as it is by the likes of Plutarch and Augustine, reinforces this conclusion.

Schleiermacher answers Lessing, Tennemann, and their lesser allies with two kinds of arguments. He suggests some miscellaneous objections to his opponents that involve matters of method, history, logic, and probability. Then he proceeds to a philosophically principled reflection on Plato’s mode of teaching. The miscellaneous objections reduce to the following points.

First, we have seen that in his initial statement of the position that he is rejecting, Schleiermacher asserts that the esoteric-exoteric distinction is spun from “isolated utterances” of Plato. He evidently does not believe that people like Lessing are innocent of the fallacy of the “fragmentizers,” the exegetes who quote Platonic lines out of context for use in promoting their pet ideas. He does not concede that an argument like Lessing’s can be established on the foundation of a few excerpts, without reference to their functions in the wholes in which they are set, for the snippets might not mean what the fragmentizers think.

Second, Schleiermacher observes that the concepts of the esoteric and the exoteric need a critical sifting, inasmuch as the distinction between the terms pertains to different things in different times ranging from the Pythagoreans to the post-Aristotelian sophists. He contends that no techinical definition that evolved during these times fits Plato.

Third, Schleiermacher maintains that no one ever has identified as esoteric a Platonic doctrine that is not openly explained or adumbrated in the extant dialogues. The existence of unwritten Platonic secrets has to be viewed as undemonstrated if nobody can point to one that is not already written.

Fourth, if the errant scholars intend to refer Plato’s uses of the esoteric and exoteric to his struggle against polytheism and popular religion, this is totally unsuitable, for his assumptions about these subjects are plain to see in his writings. It is incredible that Plato’s students needed other teach­ings about religion, or that they took a childish delight in shouting behind closed doors what was already being said publicly, only more softly.

Finally, Aristotle certainly would have known whether Plato had hidden his real opinions. However, Aristotle never mentions privately circulated Platonic works, or a secret meaning of the published dialogues. Instead, when he disagrees with Plato’s public arguments, he attacks them with the most bitter reproaches that a genuine successor could muster. This is not the behavior of a man who knows that he is fencing with shadows.10

As justifiable as these objections may be, the fact remains that Plato warns that he has not written on that which he takes seriously. Why, then, should his works not be emptied of their ostensible content? It is this difficulty that makes Schleiermacher offer positive remarks about the nature of Plato’s teaching—but not a summary of his doctrines. He declines to give a preliminary account of the substance of Plato’s philosophy, expressing doubt that this would be possible in the first place, and pleading that his object is to allow readers to form their own judgments.11 

Schleiermacher starts his positive meditation by declaring that it is desir­able to render his opponents’ mistakes and their causes perfectly transpar­ent. To this end, he says ironically that it would be laudable to lay Plato’s philosophy out analytically, piece by piece, stripped as much as possible of its context, relations, and form, leaving nothing but its bare yield, thereby proving to all that it is integral, with no lost wisdom that needs to be sought. However, this would lead only to an “imaginary” understanding of Plato’s work, for “in it form and content are “inseparable, and every sentence is un­derstood correctly only in its place, and in the connections and boundaries in which Plato has set it.” Also, Plato’s intention is not only to present his Sinn (a difficult German concept that combines the English ideas of sense, understanding, intellect, consciousness, and meaning) to others in a living way, but also to stir up and elevate the Sinn of others in a living way. Hence, it is necessary to comprehend each of Plato’s dialogues as a whole and in its relationships to all the others.12

If this is true, Schleiermacher could clarify his adversaries’ errors and their causes only with an enormous commentary on the entire Platonic corpus. Because this would exceed his scope, he must advance his intro­ductory argument by violating his own principles, that is, by interpreting a few isolated Platonic utterances. He opts for a brief exposition of the passages in the Phaedrus (especially at 275 ff) cited above. He notes that Socrates complains about the uncertainty of written communication: One cannot be sure that the reader’s soul assimilates written thoughts through its own activity, so as to attain to truth. It is likely that such a soul attains to a merely apparent grasp of words and letters, and that it conceives an empty conceit (leere Einbildung), as if it knew what it does not know. Therefore, it would be folly to build on writing, and it would be correct to rely only on living, oral teaching. Plato’s writing is for the sake of the writer and for those who already know, not for the sake of those who do not yet know.13

Schleiermacher continues by raising the question of why oral instruction is preferable to writing. He answers that there could be no other explana­tion than this: When the teacher stands in a present and living reciprocal relationship with the learner, he sees at every moment what the student has and has not grasped, and can assist the activity of his understanding when it fails. This advantage can be realized only through the form of conversa­tion. Further, as is maintained in the Phaedrus, the father of an oral state­ment can respond both to objections and to the hard-mindedness (Hartsinnigkeit) of the person who does not know yet, whereas writing cannot reply to questions that anybody might put to it. Schleiermacher adds incidentally that the interaction between teacher and student depicted here makes it unthinkable that Plato should have delivered long, esoteric lectures.14

If Plato favors oral instruction and distrusts writing, why does he write so much? To solve this puzzle, Schleiermacher follows up Plato’s indica­tion that writing is for the sake of the writer. He is referring to Socrates’ comments (Phaedrus 276c-d) that writing is intended to remind the author of what he knows and to amuse him. Schleiermacher assumes that Plato must want a remembrance of the thinking done by himself and his stu­dents, one that imitates the conversations by which they have progressed toward knowledge. Thus, Plato presumably strives to make his writing re­semble his oral teaching, and he almost certainly succeeds. Plato considers all thought “independent activity” (Selbsttätigkeit), so that any memento of his own instruction and learning would necessarily have to replicate their original forms. This alone would make dialogue indispensable to his writ­ten as well as to his oral communication.15

If Plato’s dialogues replicate his oral teaching, as Schleiermacher says, it follows that the philosopher also writes to “bring the still unknowing reader to knowledge,” or that he proposes “at least to be cautious with regard to him, so that he does not impart an empty conceit of knowledge.” If Plato has these intentions, it could be true simultaneously that his dia­logues must not be voided of their content and that he does not commit his serious thought to writing. For it is Plato’s aim “to conduct every investigation from the beginning onwards, and thereupon to reckon, that the reader either will be impelled to his own inner begetting of the envisaged thought, or forced to surrender himself most decidedly to the feeling of having found and understood nothing.” So, it must be true that whatever cognitive status Platonic statements have in themselves, they should be viewed as indispensable stepping-stones toward whatever Plato knows. At the same time, “it is requisite that the end of the investigation not be directly spoken and verbally laid down, which easily could snare many who gladly would rest content if only they had the end.”16

To teach in his writings, Plato attempts to reduce the reader’s soul to the necessity of seeking the end of the inquiry, and to set that soul on the correct path to it. He achieves the first of these purposes by bringing the soul to a clear consciousness of its ignorance, such that it could not in good will remain there. He accomplishes the second by propounding riddles and contradictions, the solution of which could be found only in the thought in prospect, or by dropping apparently irrelevant and accidental hints that will be appreciated only by those who actually search with independent ac­tivity. Or he might cloak his real investigation, not as it were with a veil, but with an adhesive skin that conceals only from the inattentive what ought to be observed and found, and that sharpens and clears the Sinn of the at­tentive for the inner connection.

It is approximately by these arts that Plato attains what he desires or avoids what he fears with everyone. It is only in this sense that one may speak about the esoteric and exoteric in Plato, namely, that these terms refer to the conditions of a reader who does or does not become “a true auditor of the inner.” Or, if one chooses to apply these concepts to Plato himself, the esoteric is his immediate teaching, and the exoteric is his writing. Plato is certainly capable of expressing his thoughts purely and completely to his immediate hearers whom he knows to have followed him.17

This last remark requires us to clarify what type of knowledge Schleier­macher imputes to Plato. Is it the doctrinal science that Lessing envisages, that is, the prepositional information that the wise could transmit to the many if they wished, but which they keep secret because “those who know it cannot say it,” in the sense that they cannot say what better is left un­said? This is extremely dubious. On Schleiermacher’s account, if anyone ventured to tell the many what Plato sees, the result would not be the cul­tivation of the same vision in the minds of the many, but the generation of empty conceits in their souls, as if they knew what they did not know. Only those who had exerted independent activity and, thus, had engaged in an “inner begetting” would ascend to Plato’s knowledge. Only “the true au­ditors of the inner” would find Plato’s verbally expressed highest thoughts intelligible. So, Plato’s Sinn has more to do with independent activity and inner begetting than with spoken words. Why is that, though, and what kind of Sinn is that? Schleiermacher does not answer. Plato’s readers must find out for themselves.

Soren Kierkegaard and G.W.F. Hegel

As a mercurial young genius, Søren Kierkegaard was a voracious reader, an inventive writer, and a slow student who spent ten years at the Univer­sity of Copenhagen. Although it seemed improbable that he would ever finish his graduate studies, he presented and defended a brilliant disser­tation, “The Concept of Irony, with Continual Reference to Socrates,” in 1841. As an older man, Kierkegaard repudiated his dissertation, the gist of his dissatisfaction with it being expressed in the lament that he had been a Hegelian fool.18 I would soften Kierkegaard’s self-criticism. Although his dissertation is Hegelian, it also resists Hegel in striving to be true to Plato’s texts and by offering a plausible argument about Socratic and Pla­tonic irony.

To extract Kierkegaard’s possibly tenable analysis from its recanted He­gelian matrix, one must begin with an excursus on Hegel’s chapters on Socrates and Plato in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy. In this sum­mary, it will become evident that Hegel’s treatment of these thinkers is a four-headed version of Schleiermacher’s worst nightmare.

First, instead of viewing the Platonic dialogues as means to becoming “true auditors of the inner,” as Schleiermacher suggests, Hegel construes them as admirable but partial and, hence, ultimately inadequate advances toward his own recently elaborated propositional doctrines.

Socrates is called “the great form” in whom “the subjectivity of thought was brought to consciousness in a more definite, more penetrating man­ner” (as only Hegel’s intellect can know). “Infinite subjectivity, freedom of self-consciousness, has arisen in Socrates.” Socrates’ “principle” is that “the human being has to find what is his destiny, what his purpose, what the final purpose of the world, the true, that which is in and for itself—attain to the truth—through himself.” Nonetheless, Socrates failed. He “did not come to the point of having a philosophy, of developing a science.” His good “is the universal which determines itself in itself, realizes itself, and should be realized—the good as purpose of the world, of the individual.” Sadly, this “is not yet presented in its concrete determination.” It is “merely formal,” and it is “in this abstract attitude that the defect of the Socratic principle lies. The affirmative does not let itself be specified.” Although we can assert of Socrates that “the spirit of the world here begins a turnaround (Umkehr),” the spirit “carried it out completely later.” It is “from this higher standpoint” that Socrates must be considered.19

Plato is the thinker who begins “philosophic science as science.” It is Plato “who grasped Socrates’ principle that being [or essence, Wesen] is in consciousness, in its truth, that the absolute is in thought, and all reality is thought.” Unlike his unscientific predecessor, Plato does not mean by this “the one-sided thought. . . . Rather, it is the thought of reality as thinking as well as of a single unity, the concept and its reality in the movement of science, the idea of a scientific whole.” Despite these praises of Plato, we must be attentive to “what the Platonic standpoint does not achieve, what his time generally could not achieve.” We grant that “Plato’s true specu­lative greatness” lies in “the closer determination of the idea,” in which the absolute is grasped both as Parmenides’ pure being—which, as uni­versal, good, true, and beautiful, “rules, penetrates, and produces the par­ticular, the manifold”—and as Heraclitus’s void. However, in Plato, “this self-producing activity is not developed, so Plato often fell into an external teleology.” His philosophy suffers from the defect that the determinate idea and the universal fall apart.20

Second,if, perchance, one should find it rather hard to recognize Soc­rates and Plato in these characterizations, it would be fair to examine the hermeneutics by which Hegel arrives at his unexpected remarks. One finds immediately that Hegel disagrees with Schleiermacher’s belief that Plato’s “form and content are inseparable.” He wants to “separate the form … in which Plato has advanced his ideas . . . from philosophy as such in him.” He forbids us to regard the dialogue as “the most perfect form in which to present philosophy.” As Hegel maintains in several of his works, the most perfect form in which to present philosophy is the scientific system that exhibits the necessary progression of thought to its completion in the idea. The disadvantage of dialogue is that it moves arbitrarily rather than nec­essarily, or at least creates a misleading appearance of doing so in Plato.21

Another major problem with Plato’s dialogue form is that it involves “a deficiency with regard to the concrete determination of the idea itself.” This defect is that the art form mixes “simple [that is, cloddish] represen­tations (Vorstellungen) of being and the comprehending recognition of the same.” Consequently, it plunges straight into myth. However, “the myth belongs to the pedagogy of the human race.” It causes people to occupy themselves with stories, detracts from purity of thought by focusing on sensuous forms, and cannot express what reason wants. When the con­cept is fully developed, it no longer needs the myth. Thus, “Plato’s exalted spirit, which had a perception or conception of spirit, penetrated through this, his subject, with the concept, but he only began this penetration, did not comprehend the whole reality itself with the concept—or [one could say that] the insight that manifested itself in Plato did not realize itself in him as a whole.”22

Both of these critiques imply that as a matter of principle, Plato’s philos­ophy must be distilled out of its dialogue form. Hegel suggests the possi­bility of this procedure by claiming that the protagonists in Plato’s publi­cations have “plastic” interlocutors who give simple yes and no answers rather than stating their own views. ( I interject that this is a stunning no­tion; it makes a person who has examined the behavior of the interlocutors wonder how closely Hegel read Plato.) This permits the protagonists to unfold a “beautifully consistent dialectic process”—even though “we cer­tainly do not find in Plato a complete consciousness of the nature of dialec­tic,” an awareness that Hegel himself has. Accordingly, we must dispense with the Platonic dramas and their characters, and maintain, as Hegel does throughout his analysis, that “Plato” speaks through the persons of Soc­rates, Timaeus, Critias, and the two Strangers. One can and must also sep­arate the popular fantasies in Plato’s myths from his “philosophic idea.” The latter is found in “Plato’s philosopheme [philosophic propositions],” and philosopheme “are thoughts and must, in order to be pure, be presented as such.”23

Third, far from concurring with Schleiermacher’s judgment that Plato’s sense of the unity of knowledge prevents him from confining any of his writings to a single “field,” Hegel sees the problem “that the Platonic phi­losophy does not declare itself to be one specific field.” This is a serious de­fect of Plato’s thought. The trouble is, “[w]e cannot find a systematic expo­sition of philosophy in this way.” Hegel rectifies Plato’s error by giving an account of his view of the true natures of philosophy and knowledge and of “the particular parts of philosophy that become prominent in his work.” He maintains that there is a “Platonic philosophy” divided into “three parts” and then proceeds to assemble it. In this revision, he demonstrates that he rejects Schleiermacher’s rule that in Plato, “every sentence is understood correctly only in its place, and in the connections and boundaries in which Plato has set it.” He culls passages that seem to apply to the same topics from different dialogues and freely recombines them into apparently co­herent doctrines. He also corrects Plato’s “unfortunate expressions,” such as “anamnesis.” From time to time, he does not scruple to omit an entire section of dialogue because it is a “beginning, a childlike effort,” that is “superficial and confused.”

Finally, in his remarks on esotericism in Socrates and Plato, Hegel differs from both Lessing and Tennemann on the one hand and Schleiermacher on the other.

Socrates was “just, true, sincere, not harsh, and honorable” toward oth­ers. Thus, he taught students with whom he associated “to know that they knew nothing; indeed, what is more, he himself said that he knew noth­ing, and therefore taught nothing.” (We must observe here that Hegel ap­parently did not read Plato carefully enough to notice that Socrates said that he knew the things of eros scientifically.) Socrates was honest, for “it may actually be said that Socrates knew nothing.” His celebrated irony consisted entirely in telling this truth. It was not “hypocrisy,” the “greatest irony.” Socrates and Plato are falsely charged with being the originators of hypocrisy. However, their irony was a “tragic irony” that was “a manner of speech, a chummy cheerfulness,” that had as its aim “to lead to the true good, to the universal idea.”25 Accordingly, Lessing and others are wrong because they think that Socrates lies, and Schleiermacher errs in arguing that Socrates tells less than he knows, remaining silent about higher truths. In proclaiming his ignorance, Socrates says what he has to say—nothing.

Plato is distorted greatly by Tennemann’s remark: “Plato availed him­self of the right that every thinker has, that of sharing only so much of his discoveries as he found good, and of sharing only with those whom he thought receptive. Aristotle also had an esoteric and an exoteric philoso­phy, only with this difference, that with him the distinction was simply for­mal, while with Plato, on the contrary, it was also simultaneously material.” Hegel retorts: “How absurd! That looks as if the philosopher possessed his thoughts like external things. But thoughts are something entirely differ­ent. It is quite the other way around: the philosophic idea possesses the human being. When philosophers explicate philosophic topics, they must judge according to their ideas; they cannot keep them in their pockets.”

To be sure, there actually is “something esoteric” in the communication of ideas. However, this is merely a matter of leaving it to speculation to bring thoughts together as unions of the different, as in the case of the identity of being and nonbeing. It is not as if Plato had two philosophies, one for the world, for the people, the other the inner, reserved for intimates. There is nothing cryptic about Plato, for “the esoteric is the speculative that is writ­ten and printed, and, yet, is hidden from those who are not interested in exerting themselves.”26 Once again, Lessing and Tennemann err in suppos­ing that Plato is deceptive or secretive; Schleiermacher is wrong to imagine that Plato says nothing of an ineffable truth that lies beyond his published arguments. There is no Platonic silence.

Having read Schleiermacher, Hegel sneers at his philosophically “su­perfluous” literary concerns and thereafter takes no account of him.27 It is safe to surmise that Schleiermacher’s answer to Hegel, if it were stated bluntly, would run along the following lines: Hegel treats the relationship between Plato’s content and form too casually. He makes premature claims to understand Plato better than Plato did, for his pictures of a sagacious but primitive Socrates and a magnificent but still amateurish and bum­bling Plato, who lacked historically advanced insight into the ends of their thought, and into the proper methods of conducting it, cannot be credited.

He undervalues Plato’s “consciousness of ignorance,” which would pre­clude Hegel’s perfect science. He is absolutely obtuse to the extraordinary premeditation that Plato put into the construction of a dialogue. He is a systematizer who attempts to convert philosophy into a structure of neatly divided fields, despite Plato’s sense of the unity of knowledge that forbids this. Therefore, he tries to lay Plato’s philosophy out analytically, piece by piece, stripped as much as possible of its context, relations, and form, so that nothing is left but its bare yield, never realizing that Plato’s Sinn in­volves an unspoken true hearing of the inner. At the same time, he is a fragmentizer who mangles Plato by taking from him what fits his preconceived scheme. In all this, he virtually confesses to a total inability to comprehend Plato, and arrives at an imaginary knowledge of him.

Whatever the merits of the Hegel-Schleiermacher quarrel, the philoso­phy faculties of Europe were Hegelian when the young Kierkegaard was a student, so it comes as no surprise that his doctoral work reflects this fact. True, the dissertation does astutely suggest an original investigation: “Now, everyone knows that the tradition has linked the existence of Soc­rates to the concept of irony; from that, it in no way follows that everyone knows what irony is.” Then, however, as a “Hegelian fool,” Kierkegaard undertakes an essentially Hegelian explanation of the essence of Socratic irony.

The Hegelian elements of his interpretation can be summed up in the following propositions: History is, as Hegel avers, “the unfolding of the idea.” Socrates represents a stage of this process, for the meaning of his existence in the world is that of “a moment in the development of the world spirit.” He is “the historical turning point at which subjectivity made its appearance for the first time.” Thus, he has the strengths and weak­nesses that Hegel attributes to him. His great accomplishment was “the negative determination that subjectivity determines itself in itself. Never­theless, Socrates lacked the objectivity in which subjectivity is empowered, is free in its inner freedom, the objectivity that is not the narrowing but the broadening boundary of subjectivity.” This is the same as to assert that “his position was infinite negativity.” Kierkegaard infers that irony is “the first and most abstract determination of subjectivity,” and also that it is “infinite absolute negativity.”28

If we object that these conclusions are not instructive, because they ap­pear to be mere anachronistic projections of Hegelian categories onto Soc­rates, we shall probably come close to the gist of the older Kierkegaard’s self-denunciation. Now, however, it is time to make the case that the youth­ful Kierkegaard’s appraisal of Socratic and Platonic irony is not simply that of a Hegelian epigone. The first step in this argument is to note that the young Kierkegaard’s very attribution of irony to Socrates is an act of rebel­lion against the master, for Hegel, it will be recalled, denied that Socrates was ironic in any but a “cheerfully chummy” manner.

In his investigation of irony, the young Kierkegaard proceeds by attempt­ing to discern the philosophical positions of the historical Socrates in an intuitively computed average of the portraits painted by Xenophon, Aris­tophanes, and Plato. This appears misguided to me. We are not sure whether each of the sketches is true to its model or misrepresents it, so averaging them proves nothing. However, if nothing else, Kierkegaard’s quest for the historical Socrates again demonstrates some independence of Hegel, who argues that there is no need to ponder what in the Platonic dia­logues belongs to Socrates, and what to Plato. Kierkegaard also sides with Schleiermacher against Hegel in the hermeneutic dispute. He applauds Schleiermacher’s respect, and regrets Hegel’s disrespect, for context. He courageously accuses Hegel of reading Plato uncritically.29 Hence, he can­not follow Hegel in regarding Socrates as a mouthpiece for Plato in phony dialogues that should have been written as prose treatises. He believes that we must describe Socrates as historically and dramatically distinct from Plato. On this basis, he attributes different kinds of irony to each of the classical masters.

In Kierkegaard’s view, the dialogue that most accurately reflects the his­torical Socrates is the Apology. Kierkegaard accepts the story that Socrates is obsessed with the oracle’s reply to Chaerephon. He contends that Socrates “understands it as his divine calling, his mission,” to go around examin­ing others, so that every time he encounters a dubious claim to wisdom, “he can be helpful to the deity and show that the person in question is not [wise].” His usual method of helping the god is to pose a question, “not for the sake of the answer but, rather, to use the question to suck out the ap­parent content. . . and thereby to leave an emptiness behind.” Elsewhere, he adds: “Herewith, we see irony in all its divine infinitude, which simply lets nothing stand. Like Samson, Socrates seizes the pillars that support knowledge and hurls everything down into the void of ignorance.” This is the irony that Hegel has attributed to Socrates, but with a difference: Soc­rates is insidious in this shaking of the pillars; unlike Samson, he feigns to hold them up even as he destroys them: “He lets what exists exist but for him it has no validity; meanwhile, he behaves as if it did have validity for him, and under this mask he leads it to its certain destruction.” So, clearly, “what Socrates said meant something different. The external was not at all in harmonious unity with the inner but was rather its opposite.”30 There­fore, by starting with the assumption that the Platonic dialogue is more than a defective literary form, Kierkegaard discovers a Socrates who does not fit Hegel’s idea of him as unreservedly “true” and “open” toward all.

The opinion that Socrates is called by a god to an ironic overthrow of knowledge might be deluded. However, a nonideological reader who is faithful to Plato could judge that Socrates is plausibly and perhaps even justifiably serious about a god. Socrates’ posture would then be incompat­ible with the notion that he represents pure negativity and that he is an early expression of the subjective freedom of Hegel’s world spirit, a stance that requires atheism.31 This difficulty compels Kierkegaard to move away from Hegel decisively.

The youthful Kierkegaard begins to retract his analysis of Socrates’ neg­ativity and free subjectivity when he asks whether Socratic irony serves anything positive. “Infinite absolute negativity” might be too strong. Here, Kierkegaard originally accepted Hegel’s comment that although aiming to lead mankind to the true good, “Socrates came to the idea of the good, the beautiful, the true only as the boundary—i.e., came to ideal infinity as possibility.”

However, Kierkegaard finds that he cannot rest here, for such a good is divorced from the universal and is virtually empty. This is to say: “As much as Hegel in several places seems to want to attribute a positivity to Socrates, and even though he ascribes to him the idea of the good, it nev­ertheless proves that the individual becomes capriciously self-determining in relation to the goal, and that the good as such in no way has uncondi­tional binding power.” Further, “since we now have recognized that the positive side was not positive in the same sense as the other was negative, we see that Socrates has validated the universal only as the negative.” This leads Kierkegaard to challenge Hegel again. He charges that Hegel argues like Appius Claudius Pulcher, that is, in a Procrustean manner. He remarks sarcastically that Hegel is “too hasty and too much feels the meaning of his position as commanding general of world history,” so that he misses things that should be in a complete treatment. Kierkegaard is therefore drawn back to Schleiermacher, saying, “What Schleiermacher attributes to Socrates is the idea of knowledge, and this is the very positivity . . . that Schleiermacher thinks Socrates hides behind his ignorance.”32

Kierkegaard asserts that Hegel’s analysis is wrong in that “the main di­rection of the flow of Socrates’ life is not portrayed with exactitude.” Hegel does not realize that the “movement in Socrates is toward attaining to the good.” Further, “His meaning in the world development is to get there. . . . His meaning for his contemporaries is that they got there.” This happened constantly, for Socrates’ life was “always forward, forward, to get there and to have others get there.” At the same time, “he also arrived at the true, i.e, the true in-and for itself, at the beautiful, i.e., the beautiful in-and for itself, in general, at being in-and for itself as both thought and being.” Then what was this good, this true, this beautiful, this being? Kierkegaard argues that Socrates firmly refused to say, for “it is essential for the ironist never to express the idea as such but only fleetingly to indicate it, to take with one hand what is given with the other, to possess the good as private prop­erty.”

Why this silence, though? At one point, Kierkegaard mentions that “Socrates attained to the idea, yet in such a way that no predicate made evident or betrayed what it actually was, much more were all the predi­cates witnesses that were silenced before its splendor.” In another place, he argues that Socrates “beautifully binds men firmly to the divine.”33 If this represents the “positivity that Schleiermacher thinks Socrates hides behind his ignorance,” he thus offers a mystical explanation of Schleiermacher’s proposition that Plato’s knowledge must be won by an inner begetting, and of the reasons that the concepts that symbolize it will be intelligible only to others who have engaged in this independent activity.

As for Plato, Kierkegaard ascribes to him one type of irony “that is only a stimulus for thought, that spurs it when it becomes sleepy, disciplines it when it becomes licentious,” and another sort that “is itself the performer of the operation and again is itself the end striven for.” The first irony corresponds to a dialectic “that in relentless movement sees to it that the question does not become entrapped in a capricious understanding, that is never weary and is always ready to set the problem afloat if it runs aground.”

The second irony is combined with a dialectic that “takes the most abstract ideas as its point of departure, wants to let these unfold them­selves in more concrete determinations, a dialectic that wants to construct actuality with the idea.” Kierkegaard equates the first sort of Platonic irony with Socratic negativity.34 The other looks like Socratic positivity. Hence, when the young Kierkegaard deviates from Hegel, he envisages an un­spoken Platonic knowledge that is not so much secret as ineffable for the spiritually obtuse. In this, he emulates Schleiermacher, except that he ten­tatively moves in an openly mystical direction.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche is a self-proclaimed esotericist. In Beyond Good and Evil, he says that the hermit—and it is given that every philosopher was first of all a hermit—does not believe that any philosopher “ever expressed his genuine and final opinions in books.” To this, he adds a rhetorical ques­tion: “Does not one write books precisely to conceal what is hidden in oneself?”35

To understand Nietzsche’s esotericism, we must ask three questions: First, what form does it take? How does the philosopher hide what he harbors? Second, what does he conceal? Third, why does he hide it?

With regard to the form of his esotericism, Nietzsche tells us that when those who are not meant for his highest insights hear them without per­mission, the insights must and should sound like follies and crimes to the eavesdroppers. The exoteric and the esoteric are found wherever one be­lieves in rank rather than equality, and the difference between them con­sists not in the fact that the exoteric tries to see and understand from the outside, but, rather, in the fact that the exoteric attempts to see from below, whereas the esoteric looks down from above.36

This little gem of self-revelation bears the following interpretation: There is abroad in our land an understanding of esotericism that explains it as a defense against persecution. The philosopher knows truths that the many would detest as follies and crimes. If the philosopher proclaimed these truths, the many might murder him for his outrages. Thus, the philosopher pretends both to endorse the views of the many and not to hold the de­spised truths in order to avoid being killed. Vulgarians who encounter his exoteric statements stand “outside,” looking in but failing to catch the es­oteric truths that are divulged only to “insiders.” This distinction between the exoteric and the esoteric seems plausible, but Nietzsche denies that it is correct.

Epitomizing the right view, Nietzsche trumpets the truths that the many see as follies and crimes, not addressing the many but not preventing them from hearing, either. He flaunts his commitment to these verities, which is authentic rather than feigned, with an astonishing frankness. He wants his auditors to know that he embraces what the vulgar call follies and crimes. Thus, the many do not stand outside, but inside his confidence. However, they still do not grasp what more the philosopher thinks, for he stands on a height far above them, while they wallow in a depth far below.

When the philosopher broadcasts his highest insights, which must and should sound like follies and crimes to the unqualified, these verities portend greater pro­fundities that have not been bared yet, for “[e]very philosophy also con­ceals a philosophy; every opinion is also a hiding place, every word also a mask.”37 Hence, the esoteric is hidden by its inaccessibility to inferior minds and by Nietzsche’s decision to stop explaining what he could still clarify. The unsuited have as much chance of unraveling the deeper truths as a dog has of grasping the ramifications of a book open under its paw. In the meantime, the philosopher cannot be troubled to care that the many hate him for shocking their sensibilities. His esotericism is one of superior intelligence, defiance, and strength, not one of secrecy and fearfulness.

If Nietzsche’s truths are concealed in the sense that they are much too profound for the vulgar to understand, and also in the sense that Nietzsche stops articulating implications, our remaining puzzles about his esoteri-cism become all the more interesting. What is it that could be so opaque to the many? Whatever it is, why does Nietzsche not simply announce it if the unqualified never could grasp it anyway? Why should he bother to write books to veil it?

We are not yet in a position to ascertain the content of the truths that Nietzsche hides, not least because Nietzsche himself suddenly, surpris­ingly creates a suspicion that such truths do not exist. “Indeed,” he de­clares, the hermit “will doubt whether a philosopher even could have ‘final and genuine’ opinions, whether behind every one of his caves there does not lie, must lie, another deeper cave—a more comprehensive, stranger, richer world on the other side of the surface, an abyss behind every ground, under every ‘grounding.’ “ 38 Thus, for the moment, we must leave the ques­tion of what Nietzsche hides in abeyance.

However, we should still like to know why Nietzsche troubles to con­ceal his ultimate views, whether they have to do with an infinite regress of abysses or some highest, real opinion. In either case, it does not appear to make sense to conceal something if it is intrinsically obscure to those from whom one proposes to hide it. Nietzsche supplies a motive for this curious behavior in one of his most famous passages. He says:

All that is profound loves masks; the most profound things of all even hate image and parable. Should not just the opposite be the right dis­guise in which the shame of a god promenades?. . . To a person who has profundity in his shame, his fates and delicate decisions befall him on paths to which few ever attain, and the presence of which his near­est and most trusted may not know: his mortal danger hides itself from their eyes, as well as his reconquered security of life.

Nietzsche seems to elaborate on this later as he explains his concept of a “fundamental will of the spirit” (Grundwillen des Geistes). The spirit wills to be and to feel itself lord of itself and its surroundings. Its will expresses itself in various drives, one of which is “a suddenly erupting decision for ignorance, an arbitrary seclusion, a shutting of its windows, a sort of pos­ture of defense against much that is knowable, a satisfaction with the dark.” Here, Nietzsche admits, “belongs the occasional will of the spirit to let itself be deceived,” and also the spirit’s will to deceive others, in which “the spirit enjoys the multiplicity and subtlety of its masks; it enjoys in this also the feeling of its security.”39

So, Nietzsche’s esotericism seems to have more to do with his preoccupation with himself than with his worries about what the many might discover. It is motivated by his delight in masks, by his will to be lord, by his sense of the proper attire for the shame of a god, by his need to veil his mortal danger from his dearest friends and even from himself, and by his desire for a feeling of security behind his masks. All this generates more perplexities that require analysis. However, it is time to leave the topic of Nietzsche’s esotericism for a while, letting it serve as background for his critique of Plato’s irony. I shall return to the problem of why Nietzsche himself loves masks at the appropriate juncture.

As for Plato, Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols wages war on “eternal idols” that block a revaluation of all values, a war in which Nietzsche sounds the idols with a “hammer.” The book has an essay titled “What I Owe to the Ancients.” Nietzsche says that the only Greek whom he venerates is Thucydides, who manifested “the unconditional will not to hoodwink oneself and to see reason in reality.” Nietzsche also says of Thucydides that “there are few thinkers so rich in mental reservations (Hintergedanken).”40 He gives Socrates and Plato the opposite kind of report, execrating them both as philosophers and as ironists.

In his exoteric remarks, at least, Nietzsche counts Socrates and Plato among the idols consigned to destruction by the hammer. Referring to the argument of his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche boasts: “I recognized Socrates and Plato to be symptoms of decadence, tools of the Greek dissolution.” Socrates is “a cave of all bad lusts.” Plato is no artist, but a decadent bore whose dialogues contain a “dreadfully self-satisfied and childish kind of dialectic.” He is “aberrant from all the basic instincts of the Hellene,” “moralistic,” “pre-existently Christian,” and, all in all, a “higher swindle.” In contrast to Thucydides, he “is a coward in the face of reality, consequently he flees into the ideal.”41

What inspires this outpouring of contempt on Socrates and Plato? To learn this, one must look where Nietzsche points, into The Birth of Tragedy. There, Nietzsche recounts the experience that causes him to disdain the classical philosophers. He relates the story of how Midas captured Silenus and asked him what is most desirable for man. The daimon answered: “What is best of all is entirely unattainable: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best is for you—to die soon.” Nietzsche comments: “The Greek knew and felt the terror and dreadfulness of existence.” He himself laments this painful horror. He regards anyone who believes in “reason in reality” as deceived because he himself finds being absurd.42

Nietzsche’s Hellene displays his noblest instincts when he is confronted with the void. As Nietzsche indicates in his mature postscript to The Birth of Tragedy, this aristocrat reacts with a “pessimism of strength.” This im­plies that he looks directly at the horrible truth of the absurdity of being and summons the fortitude to acknowledge his situation. However, it also means a great deal more. Instead of sinking into paralysis after facing the nature of his reality, the noble Greek demonstrates his accord with “the truly existing primal unity” (das Wahrhaft-Seiende und Ur-Eine) by seeking “redemption through appearance” (Erlöstwerden durch den Schein). In his quest, he turns to art: “Here, in this greatest danger of the will, art ap­proaches as a rescuing sorceress, skilled in healing. She alone is able to bend these nauseous thoughts about the dreadfulness and absurdity of existence into conceptions with which one can live.” The act of embracing poetic or artistic salvation is in itself a demonstration of tremendous strength.

The poet, perfectly conscious that existence is meaningless and that no comfort avails, nevertheless devises tragedies filled with beautiful images, and con­soles himself with them, not by deluding himself, but by delighting in ap­pearance in a manner that defies the void. This comforts the artist because it proves that “life is at the ground of things, despite all changes of appear­ances, indestructibly mighty and pleasurable.” Nietzsche explains further in his postscript, a self-analysis done after he has forsaken his youthful metaphysics of “the truly existing primal unity,” that the poet actually re­joices in his ability to say: “This crown of the laughing one, the rose-wreath crown: I crowned myself with this crown; I myself pronounced holy my laughter. No others did I find today strong enough for that.” Therefore, the artist saves himself by exercising his will to power. Instead of behaving as a coward before reality, he admits the absurdity of being but wills it into insignificance. It is chiefly in this sense that Nietzsche can say in Twilight of the Idols: “We have abolished the true world.” Nietzsche’s experience of absurdity and his “courage before reality” therefore are the source of the first “postmodern” deconstruction of being, which essentially is an act of defiant will.43

Addressing himself to the question of how the Hellenes discovered artis­tic redemption, the Nietzsche of The Birth of Tragedy conjectures that inas­much as this salvation requires a victorious resistance to nature, the wis­dom that discovers it must spring from “an enormous event opposed to nature” (eine ungeheure Naturwidrigkeit) that conquers nature “through the unnatural” (durch das Unnatürliche). Indeed, Dionysian wisdom is “an anti-natural horror” (ein naturwidriger Greuel) in which the knower “hurls nature into the abyss of annihilation” by virtue of having to suffer “the dissolution of nature in himself.” This necessitates the Dionysian man’s involvement in the most loathsome crimes (such as incest), sacrilege, and evil generally. Accordingly, the “Aryan” nations have embraced Prometheus and have generated “the sublime view of active sin as the genuinely Promethean virtue.” This noble Aryan “justification of human evil” compares favorably with the “feminine” Semitic myth of the fall, which Nietzsche rejects for its moralism.44

What is wrong with the Semitic myth and even more with the Christian morality that flows from it is that they prevent people from crowning them­selves with laughter. Christians decline into “life’s nausea and disgust with life,” and into “enmity to life.” Christianity is “basically a craving for noth­ing.” Furthermore, Christian morality causes people to despise the artistic means to salvation. It relegates art to the realm of lies and damns it. Re­suming this critique in Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche reminds his readers of “an insight that first was formulated by myself: that there are no moral facts at all.” He renews his insistence that the philosopher should “situ­ate himself beyond good and evil.” Far from obeying this order, Christian priests have ruined noble peoples with their moral teaching. Particularly, they have made the Teuton “a caricature of a man.” They have turned him into a “sinner” who is “sick, miserable, malevolent against himself; full of hatred of the impulses of life, full of suspicion against all that still was strong and happy. In brief, a Christian.”45

Socrates and Plato played vile roles in this depravation of the species. Nietzsche asserts that Socrates “was denied the satisfaction of looking into the Dionysian abysses.” He means, apparently, that Socrates never real­ized the hopelessness of searching for reason in reality, and never saw the necessity of an artistic salvation that celebrated the will’s joy in life.

Therefore, Socrates promulgated his supreme law: “Everything must be understandable to be beautiful.” In his judgment, the demands of this law were never satisfied: “Wherever Socratism directs its probing glance it sees lack of insight and the power of illusion and deduces from this lack the inner perversity and reprehensibility of what is there.” Thus, Socratic reason “condemns existing art and existing ethics” and embarks upon a desperate mission to find intelligibility. Socrates’ law and anathemas moved Euripides to kill classical tragedy. They led Socrates to “a profound crazy notion” (tiefsinnige Wahnvorstellung) that became the foundation of science, namely, “the unshakable belief that thought reaches along the lead­ing thread of causality (an dem Leitfaden der Causalität) into the deepest abysses of being, and that thought not only is in a position to apprehend being, but to correct it.”

This, in turn, inspired Socrates to preach a new morality: “Virtue is knowledge; people sin only from ignorance; the virtu­ous person is the happy person.” Plato “prostrated” himself before Socrates “with all the fervent resignation (Hingebung) of his enthusiast-charlatan soul (Schwärmerseele)” and then held Socrates up as an ideal. This devel­opment was the ruination of Western man. Nietzsche rhetorically suggests that Socrates resolved to be so scientific only out of cowardly fear of the truth. In Twilight of the Idols, he also charges that Socrates “wanted to die” after being “sick a long time,” and that the “moralism of the Greek philoso­phers from Plato on is pathologically conditioned; so is their high regard for the dialectic.” This is why he calls Socrates and Plato degenerates.46

It is within the framework of this history that Nietzsche takes up the topic of Socratic and Platonic irony. He offers a twofold analysis of these phenomena.

First, Nietzsche portrays Socrates’ irony about knowledge as a self-protective measure. Expanding his condemnation of Socratic science, he inquires: “Is the resolve to be so scientific perhaps only a fear of, and escape from, pessimism? A subtle emergency defense against—the truth? And, morally speaking, a sort of cowardice and falseness? Amorally speaking, a crafty deceit (Schlauheit)? O Socrates, Socrates, was that perhaps your se­cret? O enigmatic ironist, was that perhaps your—irony?” The insinuation is that, unlike the tragic Hellene, Socrates could not face the absurdity of existence squarely and resorted to scientistic rationalism as an analgesic.  As Nietzsche states later, Socrates fell into a “self-swindle” (Selbstbetrug).

His irony consisted in a compulsive refusal to acknowledge the void and to stop his frantic search for intelligibility each time honesty demanded it. It was a psychological defense mechanism. Considering Nietzsche’s suggestions that Plato also lacked the resolve not to hoodwink himself (sich Nichts vorzumachen) in a search for reason in reality, that Plato’s cowardice accounted for his idealism, and that Plato’s “true world” was an “error” (Irrthum) that was a “comfort,” he also sees Plato’s esotericism as a psycho­logical self-delusion.47

Second, in considering ethics, Nietzsche calculates that the nonexistence of moral facts implies that all claims to insight into good and evil must be either foolish or dishonest. Which explanation is the true one? In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche contends, “This is the great, the uncanny problem that I have been following the longest: the psychology of the ‘improvers’ of mankind.” This is his result: “We may state it as the highest tenet that, to make morality, one must have the unconditional will to its opposite. . . . Neither Manu nor Plato nor Confucius nor the Jewish and Christian teach­ers have ever doubted their right to lie.. . . [A]ll means by which mankind was supposed to have been made moral were from the ground up im­moral.”

How, though, can Nietzsche prove this? How can he be certain that ethics has not always been a terrible blunder? He defends his stance in one of his notebook entries that his sister collected under the title The Will to Power. “One errs,” he says, “if one presupposes an unconscious and naive development here, a kind of self-swindle. . . . The fanatics are not the discoverers of such thought out systems of oppression. . . . Here the most cold-blooded circumspection was at work, as Plato had it when he thought out his Republic.” Why should Socrates and Plato have fabricated such lies? In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche conjectures that “the irony of Socrates” is “an expression of revolt, of mob ressentiment.” In light of Plato’s “pre-existent Christianity,” one must assume that he, too, was involved in the general revolt of the lowly that Nietzsche discusses in the Genealogy of Morals. However, Plato’s case, which must be subsumed under that of all “priests,” presents a strange twist.

Worthless as they are, priests neverthe­less believe themselves to be “the norm, the pinnacle, the highest expres­sion of the type man,” so they crave a rulership that befits their imaginary status. Then they figure out what they need to acquire and exercise power and concoct falsehoods about morality to satisfy these requirements. Thus, “the cause of the holy lie is the will to power.”48

It now seems that Nietzsche sees Socratic and Platonic irony as one part psychological self-deception that arises out of a cowardly inability to face the absurdity of being and one part swindle that emanates from the desires of inferior men for revenge upon their betters and power over the human race. Should one be satisfied with this, or are there reasons to suspect that Nietzsche has a deeper teaching about the classical philosophers that uses these censures as exoteric cover?

There are some difficulties attendant upon the summarized arguments that require one to tarry a while over this question. It has been seen that (1) Nietzsche calls Dionysian wisdom “an anti-natural horror” with which the knower “hurls nature into the abyss of destruction” by suffering “the disso­lution of nature in himself,” thus conquering nature “through the unnatu­ral”; (2) he denies that there are any moral facts; and (3) he also denounces morality as the spiritual disease of hostility to life. However, in Twilight of the Idols he also includes an essay on “morality as anti-nature” (Moral als Widernatur). In this work, he portrays nature as a measure of health, de­scribes traditional moralities as antinatural, and holds out the possibility of a healthy, naturalistic morality ruled by an instinct of life.49 Further, it was just noticed that Nietzsche associates the motives of the Platonic priest with the will to power. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra and several other major works by Nietzsche, the will to power is the highest, not to say the only, reality. Nietzsche apparently contradicts himself. How can his inconsistencies be reconciled?

It might be hypothesized that the difficulties should be fixed up by an es­oteric reading. One could contend that Nietzsche silently indicates through his contradictions that (1) being actually is not absurd at all; (2) Dionysian wisdom does not plunge nature as such into the abyss of destruction but, rather, seeks to suppress only diseased natures and to nourish healthy ones, the achievement of natural vitality being the actual purpose of life; (3) Soc­rates and Plato secretly shared this agenda and deliberately created the illusion of an intelligible realm of reality different from the visible one to hide both the meaning of life and the necessarily cruel intentions of the strong from the weak, who must be crushed pitilessly; (4) Socrates and Plato therefore were excellent rather than poor artists; (5) there really are moral facts, but these truths are quite different from what the majority of human beings must be taught if they are to be dominated conveniently; (6) the true natural morality justifies the tyrannical rule of the healthy over the ill; and (7) Socratic irony and Platonic irony, like Nietzsche’s irony, are dis­guises of these verities. One could also speculate that some such reasoning explains Leo Strauss’s enigmatic remark that Nietzsche could “insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life—that is, restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion,” as if Nietzsche were simply car­rying on Plato’s work.50

 It seems to me that although this analysis of Nietzsche’s contradictions is attractive at first blush, it cannot stand serious scrutiny for the following reasons.

First, the type of esotericism envisaged here is not the superior, defiant, strong kind that Nietzsche proclaims from above. Rather, it is a sneaky, ma­nipulative, “priestly” variety imposed on outsiders by insiders. It simply is not Nietzsche’s style to think like this.

Second, the account suggested here is less coherent than the incoherence that it purports to reconcile. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra suggests openly that “peoples” should rule “herds,” that is, that real men living according to his principles should have tyrannical power over the many.51 Nietzsche lets everyone see that an overman likes power as much as priests do. It does not make sense that Nietzsche should protect Socrates’ and Plato’s meta­physical secrets and dissemble his own naturalistic assumptions when he trumpets their implications to every blockhead. It also seems illogical that if he himself wishes to govern by noble lies, a strategy that he condemns in discussing the case of the priests, he should torpedo the morality designed to keep the many in check, replacing it with doctrines that are likely to have the same effect on the masses that Ivan Karamazov’s conversation had on Smerdyakov.

Third, Nietzsche’s inconsistencies can be explained much more econom­ically as functions of his publicly bewailed spiritual problem. Nietzsche claims to suffer because his reality is absurd. He wants to attain to another existence, or a different consciousness, in which the defect of his reality is repaired or neutralized. He also desires to communicate this intention to others. However, it is linguistically impossible to speak of a deficient reality being changed essentially yet persisting in some core of its original essence, where it can enjoy its essential change, without adopting paradoxi­cal symbols. Nietzsche’s original collision with this hard, unyielding obsta­cle results in his idea of “the truly existing primal unity, eternally suffering and contradictory” (das Wahrhaft-Seiende und Ur-Eine, als das ewig Leidende und Widerspruchsvolle).52 This ontological oxymoron at once denotes a unity and a duality with a positive half that craves continuous redemption and a negative half, a being in the mode of defect, that torments its other half and that must be overcome to permit the deliverance of its whole self to a state of happy consciousness. Thus, Nietxsche’s initial encounter with the linguistic impossibility produces a classic Manichaean symbol.

I think that a good book on Nietzsche would show that he creates another Manichaean symbol when he becomes an “antimetaphysician.” Now the divided Ur-Eine is succeeded by the will to power as the core reality. The will to power itself is divested of all attributes of “being,” “nature,” and the Kantian Ding-an-sich insofar as it is conceived not as essence, but as action (“there is no ‘being’ behind the doing”).53 As a “doing” not supported by an ontological substrate, the will to power cannot help doing what it does; it simply does it. What it does is to express itself as the self-overcoming drive of the potential or realized overman and also to bend back upon itself in the sickly, self-destructive manner of the weaklings. It does this until the overman, as it were, “redeems” the “doing that is not being” (the will to power) in himself. So, humanity is still described with dualistic, albeit antimetaphysical, expressions, such as those in Zarathustra’s dictum: “What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a purpose: what can be loved in man is that he is a going over and a going under.”54

Next, Nietzsche brings the expression “nature” back as a synonym for the primal unity and the will to power, but not for Plato’s intelligible realm of being. His usages are equivocal. “Nature” variously connotes the primal unity’s or the will’s positive portion, the negative half, and the whole. This is why it is seemingly both salvific and destructive, and why it yields op­posite moralities, the healthy one being creatively willed by the positive part to ensure its felicity, and the pathological one being imagined to be an ontological fixture and harming life. Nietzsche’s “revaluation of all val­ues” is entirely a product of his will, founded upon the willed utilities of the positive part.55 Thus, Nietzsche’s inconsistencies are not the artifices of a sneaky, manipulative esotericist but the unavoidable linguistic conse­quences of the modern version of the Manichaean experience of being.56

We must assume, then, that Nietzsche’s attacks on Socrates and Plato are earnest. His charges that they were craven degenerates who destroyed an art that saved mankind through appearance, that they replaced it with a sterile philosophy of Ideas, and that they thus exposed the race to the disease of Christian morality are not esoteric tricks. Neither are his attacks on Socrates and Plato as thinkers who were ironic for reasons of cowardice and a sickly envy.

Nietzsche still claims to be an esotericist himself, however. It is time to return, briefly, to the reasons for Nietzsche’s love of masks. We must begin by asking our remaining questions in a slightly different way: To whom, about what, and why is Nietzsche ironic?

Nietzsche himself confirms our inference, stated above, that his esotericism has more to do with his preoccupation with himself than with con­cerns about the many. Zarathustra says: “Whoever writes in blood and aphorisms does not want to be read but learned by heart. In the moun­tains the nearest way is from peak to peak: but for that you must have long legs. Aphorisms should be peaks, and those addressed great and tall-growing.”57 The great, tall-growing types whom Nietzsche addresses are not the many. Rather, Nietzsche aims his esotericism and his whole philos­ophy essentially at himself, at his own will, and at men like himself who live in the heights. One of the inadequacies of Plato’s irony is that it is pre­cisely not aimed at his own superior will and at lofty men, but concerns itself with worthless individuals whom Plato wants to rule by means of sneaky, “priestly” manipulation.

The subject matter of Nietzsche’s esotericism is governed by the fact that as he speaks to his own will, Nietzsche is striving to facilitate the “funda­mental will of the spirit,” which wants to be and to feel itself lord of itself and its surroundings, that is, to be a god. The spirit cannot achieve this status simply by wishing it. It faces mortal dangers in its quest. The perils arise out of the fundamental truth that Nietzsche acknowledges, the basic truth of which all mankind should be conscious, that being is absurd. Once a thinker has confronted this truth honestly, he might find that all its con­sequences militate against the possibility and success of his project of self-deification. Therefore, Nietzsche makes these consequences the topic of all his philosophy and all his esotericism. It is another of the shortcomings of Plato’s irony that he does not make the horror of being its first premise and does not devote all his energies to helping the spirit overcome the obsta­cles to its fundamental will. Instead, Plato worries about the opinions of last men and flea beatles.

So, why is Nietzsche esoteric toward himself and great men? The answer rests upon the centerpiece of Nietzsche’s philosophy from his youth to his death, his commitment to the necessity of “redemption through appear­ance.” Whenever the spirit sees that yet another line of argument tends to end in the impossibility of self-deification in an absurd existence, it has to bolster its flagging divine will by yielding to “a suddenly erupting deci­sion for ignorance, an arbitrary seclusion, a shutting of its windows, a sort of posture of defense against much that is knowable, a satisfaction with the dark,” and also to “the occasional will of the spirit to let itself be deceived” and to deceive others like itself who might falter under the weight of the adverse conclusions. That is, it has to conceal the worst truths from itself and, then, overcome the shame caused by its consciousness of its own dis­honesty. It does this by writing books to conceal from itself what it harbors, by slipping into one mask after another until it has given up its morbid attachment to the truculent truth. It then “enjoys the multiplicity and sub­tlety of its masks; it enjoys in this also the feeling of its security.” The most crippling defect of Socratic-Platonic irony is that it is not directed toward the fully conscious, willfully playful self-deception of the self-deifying phi­losopher himself. By occupying itself with the opinions of cows, it misses the whole point of philosophy.

On these grounds, I think that Nietzsche would be surprised to hear that he could, and actually did, “insist on the strictly esoteric character of the theoretical analysis of life—that is, restore the Platonic notion of the noble delusion.” He advocates the adoration of appearance and identifies his il­lusions not secretly, but publicly. His conscious, deliberate self-delusion is chosen freely and, hence, is completely different from Socratic science and Platonic idealism, which are the issues of minds that are unbalanced by fear, of minds that are hysterical and thus vulnerable to error. He thinks that his images are noble, whereas Socrates’ and Plato’s delusions are con­temptible. Although he agrees that Socrates and Plato esoterically propa­gate illusions, he is far from hoping to repeat their pathological deeds. Fur­ther, his glorious “someplace” where “there are still peoples and herds,” which I mentioned above, is a form of antipolitical order dictatorially ruled by overmen and their apprentices. This someplace has the language of good and evil that its citizens have willed, not our contemporary moral babble. Nietzsche has no interest in a Socratic or Platonic political order cre­ated and maintained by ethical chicanery.58 So, although he concedes that Socrates and Plato lie about morality in their quest for power, he declines tojoin them for the sake of preserving either bourgeois society or the Socratic way of life.59

What remains is the conclusion drawn earlier. Nietzsche pictures a So­cratic irony and Platonic esotericism that are one part psychological self-deception stimulated by a fainthearted inability to face the absurdity of being and one part higher swindle conceived in the longings of failed men for revenge upon their betters, and for universal power. His attack upon them is not an esoteric disguise of agreement with them with respect to how we should respond to the terror of the void, but a charge that their irony proceeded from weakness rather than strength. Thus, he agrees with Lessing that they were esoteric, but denies that their motives were right.


1. Augustine, City of God, 8.4. Diogenes Laertius, whose competence as a reader of Plato seems doubtful to me, does not paint the same pictures as Plutarch, Clement, and Augustine. He is confident that he can give a concise summary of Plato’s doctrines. However, even he observes that Plato deliberately uses a complicated vocabulary to make his writing less intelligible to the ignorant. See his “Plato,” in Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 3.63.

2. One could also cite the Arabic tradition, which includes Al Farabi, Averroes, and the great Jew who wrote in Arabic, Moses Maimonides. I shall ignore these thinkers in this book because they are represented adequately by Leo Strauss.

3. G. Sabine, A History of Political Theory, esp. chaps. 2-5; Strauss, Persecution and City and Man; Rosen, Hermeneutics as Politics, 114,107; Voegelin, Order and History, 3:12; Friedlander, Plato, l:chap. 7, esp. pp. 147-48.

4. Schleiermacher died before he could do the Timaeus, Critias, and Laws. See the en­tire argument that Schleiermacher makes about Platonic silence in Platon, Werke, vol. 1:1, “Einleitung,” 5-38. I refer to Schleiermacher’s general introduction as “Einleitung.” I cite his introductions to each dialogue as “Einleitung to [name of dialogue].” Partially adequate translations of all these essays are provided in Schleiermacher’s Introductions to the Dialogues of Plato. The “General Introduction” to all the volumes is found on pp. 1-47.

5. Schleiermacher, “Einleitung to Phaidros,” in Werke, by Platon, 1:1, 50-51. The idea that the Phaedrus has a youthful style is supported by Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Em­inent Philosophers, 3.38. This is probably the only opinion that Diogenes Laertius and Schleiermacher share, for Schleiermacher thinks that Diogenes is “without all judg­ment” (“Einleitung,” 5).

6. Schleiermacher, “Einleitung,” 7-10.

7. Ibid., 11.

8. Tennemann, Geschichte der Philosophie, 2:220-22.

9. Lessing, “Leibniz von den ewigen Strafen,” in Lessings Werke, 11:18-19; Lessing, Ernst und Falk: Gesprache für Freimaurer, Erstes Gesprach, and Zweites Gespräch, in Lessings Werke, 12:6, 12-13.

10. For objections two through five, see Schleiermacher, “Einleitung,” 11-13. Thomas Aquinas has a different explanation of Aristotle’s attacks on Plato. He contends that Plato had a faulty method of teaching, one that employed misleading metaphors, and that Aristotle deliberately criticized the metaphorical meaning of a phrase, knowing full well that it was not Plato’s real meaning, in order to prevent popular misunderstand­ings. See the commentary by Aquinas in Aristotle, Aristotle’s De Anima, in the Version of William of Moerbeke and the Commentary of St. Thomas Aquinas, 107.

11. Schleiermacher, “Einleitung,” 7.

12. Ibid., 13-14.

13. Ibid., 15.

14. Ibid., 15.

15. Ibid., 16.

16. Ibid., 16.

17. Ibid., 16-17.

18. As quoted by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, eds. and trans., in introduction to The Concept of Irony: With Continual Reference to Socrates, by Kierkegaard, xiv.

19. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie, 39, 40-41, 54, 62-63; Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 1:384, 386, 399, 407. One trusts that the ideas in this Marheineke edition do not differ greatly from those in the first edition that Kierkegaard knew, copies of which are hard to obtain. I have compared the Werke text with that of the Jubiläumsausgabe (see Bibliography) and have sometimes allowed the latter to guide my sense of the meanings of the former. Although the Hegel translations in this book are my own, they sometimes coincide with those of E. S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson in Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy. In such cases, only one translation is possible. I cite Haldane and Simson as Lectures on Philosophy in this note and below.

20. Hegel, Vorlesungen, 147,155,199, 202; Lectures on Philosophy, 2:1, 9, 53, 56.

21. Hegel, Vorlesungen, 160,161-62; Lectures on Philosophy, 2:14,16.

22. Hegel, Vorlesungen, 163,165,163; Lectures on Philosophy, 2:17-18, 20,18.

23. Hegel, Vorlesungen, 162,161,195,165,164-65; Lectures on Philosophy, 2:16-17, 49, 20-21,19-20. The term “philosopheme” is a non-Germanic compound of Greek words for “philosophy” and “sayings.” If it is not Hegel’s coinage, it certainly is an exceedingly rare usage. Hegel’s notion that Plato philosophized through propositions that he put into the mouths of Socrates, Timaeus, Critias, and the Strangers was propagated by Dio­genes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 3.52. Some say that this proves that Hegel was right; others retort that this dates the moment in antiquity when all understanding of Plato was already lost.

24. Hegel, Vorlesungen, 162,163,166,195,179, 233; Lectures on Philosophy, 2:17, 21, 49, 34, 87.

25. Hegel, Vorlesungen, 50, 54, 56, 57; Lectures on Philosophy, 1:395, 399,401,402.

26. Tennemann, Geschichte der Philosophie, 2:220; Hegel, Vorlesungen, 157, 214; Lectures on Philosophy, 2:11, 12, 68. The expression translated as “how absurd” is wie einfältig, which connotes silly simplemindedness. Some writers view Hegel’s concession that there is “something esoteric” about the communication of ideas as a sign that even he is committed to an esotericism of Lessing’s type. This takes Hegel’s remark out of context. He explicitly denies the implication.

27. For example, see Hegel, Vorlesungen, 156; Lectures on Philosophy, 2:10.

28. Because I wished not to be utterly dependent upon an English translation of a treatise in Danish, a language of which I know little, my quotations of Kierkegaard in this book are translations of the German version of The Concept of Irony, titled Über den Begriff der Ironie: Mit ständiger Rücksicht auf Sokrates. I was surprised to discover that my translations sometimes coincided with the English renditions of Hong and Hong. I gather from this that both the German and the English translations must be exact. In both languages, Kierkegaard is cited by marginal numbers that refer to volumes and pages of the 1901-1906 Danish edition of Søren Kierkegaards samlede Vaerker. The citations for this first set of quotations are Begriff, Concept, 13:107, 107, 279, 337, 290, 295, 337, 329.

29. Hegel, Vorlesungen, 158; Lectures on Philosophy, 2:13; Kierkegaard, Begriff, Concept, 13:300-302.

30. Kierkegaard, Begriff, Concept, 13:134,134,131,136, 337,108.

31. On the necessity of atheism in Hegel, no one thinks more clearly than Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on “The Phenomenology of Spirit,” esp. 57, 67, 89-90, 97, 107, 120,146-47, 258.

32. Kierkegaard, Begriff, Concept, 13:278, 302, 310, 301 (two quotations), 288-89. Pul­cher commanded a Roman naval force. He had to consult priests to learn whether the auspices for his campaign were favorable. When he did not get the results he wanted, because the sacred chickens were refusing to eat, he threw the chickens overboard. Kierkegaard thus accuses Hegel of jettisoning evidence that contradicts his pet con­clusions.

33. Ibid., 13:311 (five quotations), 143-44, 221.

34. Ibid., 13:207.

35. The collected works of Nietzsche, Nietzsche Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, are or­ganized by section (Abteilung), volume (Band), page, and line. I shall cite them as NW with all four numbers. Translations of Nietzsche in this book are mine. Walter Kaufrnann also has good translations, and mine are often close to his. (Sometimes only one translation is possible.) Thus, I shall cite his work, too. Here, see Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse, in NW,; and Beyond Good and Evil, in Basic Writings of Nietz­sche, 419.

36. Nietzsche, Jenseits, in NW,; Beyond Good and Evil, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 232.

37. Nietzsche, Jenseits, in NW,; Beyond Good and Evil, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 419.

38. Nietzsche, Jenseits, in NW,; Beyond Good and Evil, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 419.

39. Nietzsche, Jenseits, in NW,; 54.13-18; 173.14-15, 31-32; 174.1-4, 8-9, 16-18, 20-22; Beyond Good and Evil, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 240-41, 349-50.

40. Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert, in NW,; 150.10-13,18-20; Twilight of the Idols; or, How One Philosophizes with a Ham­mer, in The Portable Nietzsche, 466, 558.

41. Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmerung, in NW,, 30; 63-64, 65.22-23; 149.16-19, 24-25, 27, 28-32; 150.1, 3-4, 5-9, 28-30; Twilight of Idols, 474, 475, 476, 477, 557, 558-59.

42. Nietzsche, Die Geburt der Tragödie: Oder, Griechenthum und Pessimismus, in NW,,29-30; 52.33-34; 53.1,12-18; The Birth of Tragedy; or, Hellenism and Pessimism, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 42, 60.

43. Nietzsche, Geburt der Tragödie, in NW,; 34.29-30, Dämmerung, in NW,; Twilight of Idols, 486. There is another sense in which Nietzsche denies that there was ever a true world to abolish. In Götzen-Dämmerung, he endorses the teaching of Her­aclitus that all material reality is in flux. With the Platonic Socrates’ intelligible realm dismissed as imaginary, and his visible realm reduced to flux (a description of the vis­ible realm with which Socrates or Plato might have agreed), “being” becomes a totally empty fiction.

44. Nietzsche, Geburt der Tragödie, in NW,,5,11,14; 65.14,29-30, 32,27; 13.11-12; Birth of Tragedy, 68, 69, 70, 71, 24.

45. Nietzsche, Geburt der Tragödie, in NW,,19, 28-29; Birth of Tragedy, 23; Götzen-Dämmerung, in NW,, 1-2; 93.10-16, 19-20, 22-23, 25-28; Twilight of Idols, 501, 502.

46. Nietzsche, Geburt der Tragödie, in NW,; 81.6-7; 85.27-32; 95.7-12; 90.25-30; 87.32-33; 6.34-35; 7.1-2; Birth of Tragedy, 89, 83-84, 87, 95, 91, 89,18. Götzen-Dämmerung, in NW,,17; 66.13-15; Twilight of Idols, 479, 478.

47. Nietzsche, Geburt der Tragödie, in NW,; 7.1-5; Birth of Tragedy, 18; Götzen-Dämrnerung, in NW,; 150.12-13; 74.2,14; Twilight of Idols, 478, 558, 485. There are further remarks in the same vein in the Nachlass.

48. Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmemng, in NW,, 9-11, 17-22; Twilight of Idols, 505; Nachgelassene Fragmente: Anfang 1888 bis Anfang Januar 1889, in NW, 8.3, entry 15 (45), p. 234, 11. 1-7; entry 15 (42), pp. 227-30, all; The Will to Power, 92; 89-91; Götzen-Dämmerung, in NW,; 96.1-5; Twilight of Idols, 476, 505; Nachgelassene Fragmente, in NW,; The Will to Power, 92.

49. Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmerung, in NW,; 79.16-18, 21-24; Twilight of Idols, 486, 489-90.50. Strauss, Natural Right and History, 26.

51. Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch fiir Alle und Keinen, in NW,; Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, in The Portable Nietzsche, 160. This text is merely one example of many where Nietzsche or Zarathustra expresses such a sentiment; the argument does not rest on this passage alone.

52. Nietzsche, Geburt der Tragödie, in NW,; Birth of Tragedy, 45.

53. “Es giebt kein ‘Sein’ hinter dem Thun, Wirken, Werden; der ‘Thäter’ ist zum Thun bloss hinzugedichtet,—das Thun ist Alles.”

54. Nietzsche, Zur Genealogie der Moral, in NW,; On the Genealogy of Morals, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, 481; Also sprach Zarathustra, in NW,; Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, 127.

55. See, for example, Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra, in NW,, 25-27, 30-31; Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, 138-39.

56. My analysis of Nietzsche’s Manichaeanism disagrees with Peter Berkowitz, Nietz­sche: The Ethics of an Immoralist. I think that Berkowitz underestimates the radicalism of Nietzsche’s antimetaphysics.

57. Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra, in NW,; Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, 152. The German word rendered as “by heart” is “auswendig.” This word always receives this translation, but it does not literally mean “by heart.” It means something like “out-turning,” in the sense that something has been learned so thoroughly that it has been turned inside out. Zarathustra means that a writer does not want to be read for the details of his argument, which are meaningless, but for understanding of the absolute essence of what he has in mind.

58. Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra, in NW,, together with the whole of the chapters “Vom neuen Götzen,” pp. 57-60; and “On the New Idol,” pp. 160-63. Cf. “Zur Kritik des Manu-Gesetzbuchs,” in Nachgelassene Fragmente, in NW, 8:3, entry 15 (45), pp. 233-34; and “Toward a Critique of the Law-Book of Manu,” in The Will to Power, 91-92.

59. Thus, I respectfully disagree with the view that Nietzsche is a “postmodern Plato.” Cf. Catherine H. Zuckert, Postmodern Platos: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Strauss, Derrida, chap. 1; and Stanley Rosen, The Mask of Enlightenment: Nietzsche’s “Zarathustra,” xiv. I believe that Nietzsche would be dismayed to find himself at the center of Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, chap. 8, a placement that intimates that his essays were “Platonic.”

This chapter is from  Eros, Wisdom, and Silence: Plato’s Erotic Dialogues.  James M. Rhodes. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2003.

James M. Rhodes

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James M. Rhodes was Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Marquette University. He was author of The Hitler Movement: A Modern Millenarian Revolution (Hoover Institution Press, 1980) and Eros, Wisdom, and Silence: Plato’s Erotic Dialogues (Missouri Press, 2003). Both books were winners of the Alpha Sigma Nu Award.